When you housebreak a dog, you have to catch him in the act. If you don’t, he can’t associate your displeasure with his ruining of your beautiful yet outdated shag carpet. Your silence will otherwise be implicit endorsement for continued backside bombardment and you’ll have to start setting aside a carpet budget.
It’s kind of like that. Felix Kjellberg—better known by his streaming handle PewDiePie—is back in the headlines. You may remember that in January, Kjellberg published a non-gaming video that featured his use of Fiverr to hire a duo to hold up a sign saying “DEATH TO ALL JEWS.” This led the Wall Street Journal to further investigate, and it turns out that he has a history of anti-Semitic behavior through at least August of 2016.
And just this week, Kjellberg was caught exclaiming the N-word at another player in a PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds stream (which wasn’t even the first time he’s been known to use the racial slur). If you want full context, you can watch the clip yourself, but be warned that it is obviously NSFW and offensive. The key bit, however, is when he says, “What a fucking [N-word],” before correcting himself to say, “What a fucking asshole.”
Yes, that’s right. He equates the two words. To him, those are synonymous with one another. It is unequivocally awful that 1) he holds that connection within himself and 2) he says it at all, let alone with the full derogatory weight in his voice. (That laidback, casual usage is called privilege, by the way.)
After being called out across the breadth of the Internet, though, he saw fit to issue an apology. And as per his tradition of offensive transgressions, the apology was pretty much worthless. In his video entitled “My Response,” he says, “It’s not that I think I can say or do whatever I want and get away with it. That’s not it at all. I’m just an idiot, but that doesn’t make what I said or how I said it okay.”
“It was something that I said in the heat of the moment, I said the worst word I could possibly think of and it just sort of slipped out, and I’m not going to make any excuses to why it did because there are no excuses for it. … It seems like I’ve learned nothing from all these past controversies.” And then he goes on to say, “I’m really sorry if I offended, hurt, or disappointed anyone with all of this.”
There’s a lot to digest here—a job that many others do far better elsewhere—but the key takeaways is that he knows he shouldn’t say offensive things and that he says he’s sorry. But more importantly, he says these things with qualifications. Apologies don’t include the word “if.” He should be sorry regardless if people were hurt or disappointed. He should have known better before his controversies.
Worse than that, he says that the slur came out when he wasn’t thinking and was “in the heat of the moment,” which is another way to say that there’s a not insignificant part of him that is always active in repressing some inner core of racism begging to be let out.
Many of you may be asking at this point why are we even talking about this. Kjellberg clearly won’t change and neither will a hefty chunk of his audience. But that’s also kind of the point. At 57 million subscribers, carving out even two percent of his viewers in raising awareness with this controversy is 1.14 million views less contributing to his ad revenue and his endorsement clout.
And that’s noteworthy among the advertisers and endorsements and the big studios bankrolling his productions. After the Fiverr video, Disney, owner of Maker Studios, severed ties with Kjellberg. YouTube then cancelled his scripted series for YouTube Red, which alone was a six-figure deal.
The full fallout from this latest controversy has yet to be seen, but it has at the very least brought about a new type of backlash: the developers themselves. Sean Vanaman, cofounder of Campo Santo, filed a DMCA claim on Kjellberg’s videos of a full playthrough of their debut game Firewatch and says they will do so for any of their future games as well.
He has some choice words to say about Kjellberg, too. One tweet says, “I am sick of this child getting more and more chances to make money off of what we make.” Another goes on to say, “He’s worse than a closeted racist: he’s a propagator of despicable garbage that does real damage to the culture around this industry.” Though he’s also fully aware that “a bit of leeway” is necessary with the Internet and that Campo Santo itself is “complicit,” he does make a good point.
Developers have the power to break up Kjellberg’s foundational elements. Without the implicit grant of a license / ignorance of a violation, his ability to stream games is squashed. Some have claimed this a legal abuse, but it’s also fully within the licensor’s rights to withhold licenses at will. In other words, “reason is irrelevant,” and Campo Santo has plenty of reasons.
And that’s the change that comes from speaking up. We encourage studios like Campo Santo to take actions like this or push YouTube to cancel contracts. We raise awareness to other viewers that they should know that someone they look up to or enjoy is not who he says he is. We exemplify the greatest estate of the American life: information is one of the most dangerous weapons you can wield.
You see, Kjellberg is not the dog. He either cannot or will not change (it doesn’t really matter which). We are the dog. Studios are the dog. Everyone that consumes and supports people like Kjellberg are the dog. We are the ones that have to see the problems with our actions, and through that, we bring about change.
And we won’t have to keep replacing that damn carpet.